While I was packing for the above television appearance last week (despite not owning a television, though Netflix and Hulu make rapid familiarization a lot easier), I was reflecting somewhat wistfully that I can’t bring much unpasteurized Funky Butte Ranch goat cheese on the extensive TOO HIGH TO FAIL Pax Cannabis book tour that’s about to kick off with the book’s publication today.
I plugged in some of the early events’ GPS coordinates and, if I want to be absolutely sure that I’ll arrive alive at all two dozen or so events, I probably shouldn’t eat any of the nutritively priceless garlic/peppercorn chevre beyond, say, Denver. As I stuffed my running belt into my duffel bag, I reflected that adjustments in diet, especially from home-milked to wider-world, can be some of the hardest to make. I briefly considered bringing my goats along on the tour. But then I remembered sushi. This was my staple when I lived along a sockeye salmon river in Alaska and to say I miss it is like saying Kumar likes medicinal herbs.
A distant tingling, born out at the spicier frontiers of my taste buds, rode a speeding hand-pumped railroad cart along a wasabi third rail to the tip of my tongue and on to the station way at the back of my palate. I remember the exact moment of this culinary/olfactory hallucination (usually portrayed in cartoons with the uncomplaining victim floating toward the source of the fumes), because, before stuffing the running belt between the hemp ballcap and the Carhartts, I had just hung up the phone and found myself one rung higher in my belief in humanity.
See, I had been on the horn with a practitioner of the automotive supply and repair profession. For many, this will provide sufficient surprise at my elevated state of mind. Too many folks don’t associate “interaction with my mechanic” with “higher belief in humanity.” Perhaps my expectations were low.
In fact, for a few weeks, having atypically dealt with every traditionally difficult demographic from solar electrical contractors to entertainment lawyers to airline industry frequent flier arbiters to an extended family of well-nourished squirrels claiming squatters rights under my barn, I had been telling friends and family that I had all but come to the conclusion that the days when business could be carried out by verbal agreement were numbered. (The squirrels, in particular, seemed averse to any kind of civilized negotiation, especially if it involved their not eating my expensive organic chicken feed.)
My overall (and rare) business world cynicism had started even before the barrage of real world phone calls and invoices intruded into my usual hummingbird-quiet world, as a protest my heart was staging against the to-me-distasteful social media era characteristic whereby “friends” are really people eventually interested in selling stuff to us (and vice versa). Life as used car salesmanship. This is not what I want at the base of any of my relationships.
In a few pointed arroyo-side rants, I had emphasized, perhaps over-emphasized, a few recent experiences by which I could mix the concrete for the foundation of my truth on this. And so confident was I about my almost-conclusion (admittedly much better, in a very relative universe, than an actual conclusion) that we were now not a society but a giant social corporation, that I bet a friend ten bucks that the manager at the nearest Big O tires (forty five minutes from the Funky Butte Ranch), Fred, even here in the aptly-named Land of Enchantment and despite my three-sets-of-tires loyalty over the years, would not let my mechanic pick up my new book tour RV for a break check, until he had obtained certain key credit digits from me.
“He’s not handing those keys to anyone until paperwork has been signed,” I told my hiking buddies. One grunted as though a yucca branch had stabbed him in the pancreas, which it had. “I bet they learn that as trainees,” he groaned or agreed. Another took the bet (tellingly, comfortingly, without either of us writing it down).
I was wrong. About Fred. His was the call that came before my sushi fantasy, asking that I stop by, ya know, sometime, to pay him for the tires. And that, people, is just one chord in the solid vibe chorus under which I begin this tour. In fact, as TOO HIGH TO FAIL hits shelves and I cruise out to meet many of you (in person or in literature), I want to send props to the crew of rural New Mexico craftspeople who made it possible, from the strictly mechanical standpoint: part of the tour will unfold in a cozy 1987 RV. And those who have operated such a collection of obsolete (and often superior) parts and functions know that a 27-year-old vehicle is a 27-year-old vehicle. So this one goes out to Nacho, Ed and the crew at Speedy Wrench, and Fred at Big O Tire. Plus Donny Z, a true jack-of-all-trades. These fellows know about the nascent book. They are part of its mission. The pit crew.
They found and repaired everything from vacuum leaks to rusted tail pipes. On the subject of fluids alone, this old Tioga (pre-microwave and plasma TV, thank heavens!) is now one of the best hydrated organisms I’ve come across in my desert ecosystem in quite some time.
And that, as I say, was just the automotive section of the Auspiciousness Orchestra that’s been serenading me here on the Funky Butte Ranch these past weeks. Or maybe it’s been years now. My calendar is more seasonal than weekly. What feels like another key part of the Big Picture Syncopation that I find it hard not to interpret as metaphorically encouraging is the fact that earlier today my four-year-old burst into my office clutching what appeared to be the world’s most perfect peach and announced (what you might call the dictionary definition of joyfully), “look what I found in the orchard!”
‘Twas not just the first peach of the year, but in fact the first Funky Butte fruit of any kind. Ah, seven years from planting to payoff, and totally worth it. Juicy, is what I’m trying to say. I haven’t cleaned the drip stains off my mouse pad yet.
And so under that kind of emotion (and nutrition!) now the fun begins. Has begun, I should say. Although by that I could mean a week, 42 years or 5 billion Millennia, star stuff that we are. But the specific immediate tour fun has already included several excellent moments on the very first leg, a short run to L.A. for the Conan O’Brien show. Before I even reached the airport, I enjoy a brief yoga retreat from a pass overlooking the nation’s oldest designated wilderness. The stretching session included a brief and mutually supportive eye-to-eye with a young bobcat still sporting tufts of kitten fur. I came very close to petting it before remembering that this would violate proper cruising-to-the-Warner-Brothers-lot-through-ancient-ponderosa-pine-forest etiquette.
This is my life for the next month and a half or so (I hope to return just in time for post-Monsoon river rafting season): ping pong with Andy Richter one day and goat milking the next. Or as I think of it, Psychic Cross-training. One wants to broaden the areas in which one is n shape. And I hope the video that starts this Dispatch bears out my feeling that the book that spurred the Conan visit could hardly have enjoyed a more auspicious launch than last Wednesday’s show. Certainly I could hardly have had more fun.
I am consciously hopeful that the demographic cross-training will bestow on my constitution the endurance for healthy completion of what looks to be at least six weeks of Constant Discussion About the End of the Drug War. In addition to the live performance and slide show about the plant’s journey from farm to patient, as documented in TOO HIGH TO FAIL, I on some days have five media appearances between morning yoga and bedtime. In truth, the Drug War topic is so timely (with key legalization elections this November in three U.S. states, decriminalization discussions in many more, and worldwide Drug War withdrawals from Uruguay to Portugal, not to mention an American public, even in the heartland, more than ready for a Drug Peace) the tour will probably go on much longer. But that’s when the initial hardcover tour dates and media appearances at least break, ensuring that I can once again be awakened by hummingbird wings for a while.
And I’m happy to hit the road. More even than the fact that I believe in the book’s message, and think it’s imperative that America end the Drug War immediately, for the good of our economy and health, I’m excited because I feel happy with the book from a literary and journalistic perspective. From a strictly craft outlook, my goal is to improve with every project (heaven knows there’s plenty of room), and I feel I have with this one.
Strategy-wise, possibly as a result of the lessons from its Wildlife Special-and-peaches start, and in sync with my general desire for sanity maintenance in life, I’ve been invariably takin’ the scenic route as the TOO HIGH TO FAIL tour starts. And, near-flight connection misses aside, lovin’ it. Take last week: the tiny 19th Century adobe village nearest my Ranch was typically inspiring before sunrise en route to Conan. Dodging dewy rabbits who felt they owned the cobblestone, I witnessed the liquid lemon shine radiating from new corn emerging from back forty meadows in long sunrise light. You think a Higgs boson particle has a short visible life? Try young corn coronas in July. The magic had washed into glaring summer sunlight by the time I reached pavement. The rabbits were already dreaming of the cool dew days. And now I get a chance to experience it again (or something equally ancient and inspiring) in a few days when I’m off to the East Coast for a CBS Morning Show appearance and live event at a great indie bookstore called Book Revue.
The momentum I derive from in-between moments like these (think camel stockpiling water) is one reason I so love tour time: I enjoy overflowing with wilderness energy in cities, before returning for a Monsoon massage recharge. And I get a huge kick out of the evens themselves. Perform. Laugh. Meet people. End the Drug War in a few minds. Move on through the heartland to the next gig.
But most readers of these Dispatches are not surprised to hear this. Hummingbird alarm clock life obviously charges my batteries, or I wouldn’t live 41 minutes from the grocery store. In fact, living 41 minutes from the grocery store but snuggling the nation’s oldest wilderness area is the price you pay If you want hummingbirds to be your alarm clock. That and lovably pain-in-the-ass goats.
I’ve known this for decades and have been living it nearly as long. I’ll never forget the first night I slept in a city (San Francisco) after nearly two straight years in rural Alaska, where Live Entertainment meant a dude with a banjo in the stern of the salmon skiff. Falling asleep after a sushi gorge was no struggle. But the screaming ambulance that rousted me that early Millennium morning in San Francisco was so unfamiliar and unsettling that I guess I screamed for explanation from the guest room. “Go back to bed,” my host shouted from across the apartment. “It’s just someone dying.”
After the Conan show last week, I had drinks with an entertainment executive who had expressed some interest in a television version of the astounding events recounted in the book. He was planning. he told me, a weekend getaway with his family at a campground in California’s gorgeous Sierra Nevada mountains – the dude was genuinely psyched about the “quiet” he was about to inhale like medicine. And in this, of course, I recognized a kindred spirit. I also recognized that our lives were structured to be almost complete opposites in this area: this next month and half will be the first consistent exposure to noise; indeed to much non-goat contact, that I have encountered since the publication of FAREWELL, MY SUBARU four years ago. I’m pretty confident that I’m prepared, care of the Psychic Cross-training recounted in this Dispatch. Let’s just say I’ve listened to every woodpecker and hawk message on my canyon runs since the book’s editorial process wrapped up in the late spring. I feel prepped.
In fact, I realize that as I prepare to set the vegetable oil-powered Ridiculously Oversized American Truck for points East (then West in the RV), the only issue now is what I’m going to do when the Funky Butte Ranch goat cheese runs out. Goat farmers, if you come and see me on the tour, please bring some. I need to fuel up, physically, on actual Rugged Individualist food, as much as I do, psychically, on the good energy the universe seems to be raining over us of late.
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DOUG ON CONAN